The truth about women and stroke

Women are affected by stroke differently than men and are at higher risk at key stages of their lives
Lisa Meeches

Lisa Meeches is one of the stroke survivors profiled in Heart & Stroke's 2018 Stroke Report

Stroke can happen to anyone at any age – but it hits women harder. 

  • One-third more women die of stroke than men. 
  • Women are 60% less likely to regain their independence after a stroke and experience worse quality of life.  
  • A woman in Canada has a stroke every 17 minutes. This equates to 85 women every day, 18 of whom will die. 

“We have seen amazing improvement in stroke awareness, care, treatment and research over the past 20 years,” says Yves Savoie, CEO of Heart & Stroke. “But unfortunately women are not benefitting equally from this progress.” 


The Heart & Stroke 2018 Stroke Report takes a look at the gaps and what needs to be done to stop so many women dying from stroke — including addressing differences in treatment and recovery.

Women are affected by stroke differently than men and are at higher risk at key stages of their lives: During pregnancy, after menopause and when they are elderly. Women of South Asian and African descent are also at greater risk. Indigenous women face an increase in stroke rates and challenges to accessing adequate treatment and recovery support.

Heart & Stroke has launched #TimetoSeeRed, an awareness campaign that’s supporting better heart and brain health for women from prevention through to treatment and recovery.

Staying in control 

There are many things women can do to lower their risk of stroke, including:

  • Maintaining a healthy blood pressure  through lifestyle changes (such as increased physical activity, healthy eating with DASH diet  and reduced salt intake) and when needed through medication.
  • Being physically active  for at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet  focused on whole foods with lots of vegetables and fruit, limiting ultra-processed foods, avoiding sugary drinks, watching portion sizes, and cooking at home as often as possible.
  • Becoming and remaining smoke free.
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Using medications  to reduce the risk of stroke exactly as prescribed by their healthcare provider.
  • Discussing their personal risks  with their doctor before using birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy after menopause.

Women can also protect themselves by learning the FAST signs of stroke. What happens in the first few hours after a stroke is critical. The faster the signs of stroke are recognized and the person experiencing stroke gets to a hospital, the better their chances of survival and a good recovery. 

“Women have so many pressures on them with work and family that they do not take enough time to put their own health first. When signs of stroke appear in a younger female, they are more likely to down-play what they are experiencing and waste valuable time before seeking medical help, putting them at risk for a worse outcome,” says Dr. Patrice Lindsay, director of stroke at Heart & Stroke. “We must improve stroke awareness and make sure women get access to life-saving care as fast as possible.”